The Civil War of 1812, and my admiration has been growing steadily.
Much has been made of Taylor's argument that the War of 1812 is best understood as a continuation of the pro-British/anti-British civil war aspects of the American Revolution, but with many more divided constituencies drawn in: American for the war and against the War; Upper Canadians for the Brits and against the Brits; Irish filling the ranks of the British regiments but also providing a powerful anti-British constituency in the United States; Brits who want to desert to the Americans and Americans willing to deal with the British; and First Nations, African-Americans and other minorities endlessly divided in their reactions.
Taylor makes that case -- about the civil-war nature of the war -- effectively. But this is a hell of a history book even if you don't take much interest in that thesis. Taylor, rather unusually, I think, has taught himself a lot about both sides in the conflict and as a result his account of the origins of the war is one of the best and clearest I have ever seen. Indeed, once he gets to the actual war, my interest flagged a bit, as he is compelled to march us through one squalid skirmish after another. (All by the way, on the Upper Canadian side of the war; he isn't interested at all in the naval contest on the Atlantic Coast, except as a cause of the war.) Even on a smallish detail, he's much more coherent on why Joseph Willcocks went from the Upper Canadian legislature to leading an American partisan regiment than is, say, the usually indispensable DCB.
I am ceaselessly impressed by his wealth of quotation and the range of his sources. Sometimes you can just read a history book without much concern for what the subject is, in simple admiration at the technical historical virtuosity that is on display. This is one. Taylor's Civil War is a pretty serious read, though indeed his method is almost entirely based on traditional diplomatic and military history narrative -- not a statistical table in the book, but his footnotes are awesomely comprehensive. I'm becoming a fan.
I see Everyday History has its own fave-rave posted today, on a very different book on another subject entirely.
Update, March 6. Chris Raible, who knows Upper Canadian history, writes:
I've been praising Alan Taylor for years - from his Cooper's Town, his Penguin American Colonies, his Divided Ground books and his many articles including one on Late Loyalists. Welcome aboard.